National Business Ethics Survey Finds Retaliation on the Rise

January 13, 2012 - Comments Off

Last week the Ethics Resource Center (“ERC”) released the results of the National Business Ethics Survey that it conducted in September 2011.  According to the ERC study, the percentage of employees who witnessed misconduct at work fell last year to a new low of 45 percent, and the percentage of employees who reported the misconduct they observed reached a record high of 65 percent.  But the survey also found that employer retaliation against employee whistleblowers rose sharply.  More than one in five employees (22 percent) who reported misconduct said they had experienced some form of retaliation in return, compared to just 15 percent in 2009.

The ERC posited that “as the economy gets better – and companies and employees become more optimistic about their financial futures – it seems likely that misconduct will rise and reporting will drop, mirroring the growth in pressure and retaliation that have already taken place and conforming to historic patterns.”  The ERC sees a “downturn on the horizon” in ethical behavior – due, in part, to the fact that “of ERC’s four key ethics outcomes (which historically either improve or decline in concert), the two that tend to be leading indicators – pressure and retaliation – have spiked since the 2009 survey and have increased at an alarming rate. “ The report notes that “these trends heighten business risk by increasing ethical misconduct and discouraging reporting, thereby depriving organizations of the chance to identify and fix potential problems before they become significant.”

Of the twenty percent of the workforce that reported suffering whistleblower retaliation, over half reported that the retaliation took one or more of the following forms: exclusion from decisions and work activity by supervisor or management; receiving a cold shoulder from other employees; verbal abuse by supervisor or someone else in management; almost losing their jobs; being passed over for promotions or raises; and verbal abuse by other employees.  As the ERC notes, retaliation contributes to workplace instability, driving talented people to look for other jobs and depriving businesses of key skills and talented people.  In fact, the ERC found that of employees who experienced retaliation, roughly seven in 10 decide to leave their current place of employment.

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